The Trademark of Friendship

Southern girls are known for many things. Big hair, impeccable manners, and the ability to pull together a shower, tea, tailgate or dinner party at a moment’s notice, complete with delicious food and sweet tea. We also know the proper times when “Bless your heart” is a genuine statement of concern and when it is simply said when there are just not enough words to adequately describe a trainwreck of a situation.

The proper training of any southern woman begins with her mother and grandmother’s example, but the skills are truly refined in the sorority house. I am a proud member of Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA). At Birmingham-Southern College, these ladies were my soul sisters, best friends, confidants, and teachers all rolled into one. Before knowing most of them, I only dreamed about the ways I would grow to sparkle. These ladies brought the glue and added the glitter to yours truly! While the registered trademark of the group is “Seek the noblest,” oftentimes I have thought the phrase should be changed to “we develop the noblest.”

This past week, I was reminded what sisterhood is really all about. Later on in this post, you will see why my thoughts were with my beloved friends this week. Sure, there are songs, rituals only we understand, costumed fraternity parties and your occasional disagreement over something really silly like who has the ultimate say-so in decorations during recruitment of new members. For the bad reputations Greek organizations get, what really sets these organizations apart and what is rarely reported on in the media is their ability to collectively make a positive difference in their world around them.

You could always tell a person’s affiliation on campus by the letters they wore on their t-shirts or their badge. It was their trademark they proudly displayed for all the world to see. I started wondering about the trademark and copyright implications of sororities and fraternities. Did each take time to register their trademarks? How do they police their trademarks? With so many things that could be registered what did my group decide to register? How do they wrestle with the music issues of turning popular songs into sorority based songs?

I was so happy to learn ZTA took time to register several trademarks, especially their new logo released last year. A brief search of the trademark office showed they have registered design marks on the current design released last year with the phrase “seek the noblest.” They also have simply registered the name itself, “Zeta Tau Alpha.” They even registered the crest of our group too. Interestingly enough, though, the first trademark was only registered in 2007, a mere 8 years ago.

What does this mean for other Greek organizations? The good news is that, yes, you can possibly receive a trademark registration for your organization, but you should act soon. Registering a trademark points to source. It tells the marketplace where the product comes from and what kind of quality you can expect, among other things. I was encouraged also to see that, for the most part, national ZTA has been fairly consistent in using the new logo as it has been registered. Consistency once a mark is registered is key for enforcement of the mark.

See more, Should I Register My Trademark?

The other big intellectual property issue I see for sororities and fraternities is in the usage of music. During recruitment period, sororities routinely perform songs set to popular tunes. While it is true there are specific songbooks the national organizations license and distribute to their respective chapters, the part that really concerns me is when chapters, albeit with good intentions, decide to create their own versions of songs. The risk substantially increases if the songs are recorded and then placed on the internet via sites like YouTube or Vimeo for viewing.

In a very strict sense, any usage of music must be licensed out or else it is copyright infringement. This is true even if you are NOT making any money off of the performance. This is true even though the lyrics are changed to be ZTA specific. This is true even if you feel like it is a complete parody and is “allowed under Fair Use.” The doctrine of fair use does allow usage for teaching, scholarship and research; however, use within a social organization, even though part of a larger academic organization, would not qualify. I would offer a word of caution to any chapters thinking about making their own versions of songs. Of course, in any case, there could be other factors to consider.  It is a tricky area which is very fact specific that could land you in trouble really quick.

See more on song parody, The Beauty and The Beast of Copyright Law

I wonder what type of training National received and subsequently gives to individual chapters about how to use the trademark and copyright usage? If not, they should definitely think about having a bit of intellectual property law training for their national team and chapters or at the very least, include it for Advisors to pass along to chapters. Why have my thoughts been there?

This past week my former college roommate, sorority sister and during my college years “partner in crime,” lost her husband. Now with two children of her own and two step-children she will start to experience a new normal. Within hours a conversation started taking place between several of us about what we could do to make a BIG difference. Just like big hair, southern sorority girls’ ideas are not small. We decided that her biggest and most immediate need is something very basic – money. Therefore, we set up a Go Fund Me account and have all been actively sharing it within our networks. Our goal is ambitious, but we know we can achieve it.

Today is payday for many. I ask you each to visit the page and simply give $5 or whatever you can afford. If you tithe weekly to a church, please consider making a difference in this way. If you are simply looking for a way to pay it forward, then this is the place for you too. If you cannot give, I ask you to share this blog or the link to others via your networks on social media and email.

Here is the link where you can read more about the story:

Go Fund Me

While the costumes are fun and the songs are silly, the trademark of true friendship is stepping up when someone needs help. As one of my sisters said earlier this week, “It has been magical reconnecting with everyone and seeing how everyone came up with ideas about how to help our friend.” Distance and time may separate us, but memories and love will always bring us back together. The trademark of friendship – Yes! Take part in the magic and help us make a difference.

Let me know what you think in the Comments section below and Stay Tuned In!

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2 thoughts on “The Trademark of Friendship

  1. Although most parodies don’t meet the Fair Use criteria, in one of my favorite law school cases, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569 (1994), involving 2-Live Crew doing a parody rap version of “Pretty Woman,” the U.S Supreme Court found there was fair use. This made for an enjoyable IP class!

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